pageok
pageok
pageok
"If Gun Rights Are Civil Rights,"

asks Andrew Sullivan in a post titled "The Gun Closet," "why would anyone feel the need to hide the fact that they own one?"

Am I missing some subtle argument here? Taking the question at face value, the answer is so obvious that it's hard to see what the force of the question might be.

Let's begin with the apparent referent of "The Gun Closet." Andrew Sullivan, I take it, believes that sexual autonomy rights are civil rights, but surely no-one would respond to a newspaper's publishing the names of known homosexuals with "If [sexual autonomy] rights are civil rights, why would anyone feel the need to hide the fact that they [exercise them]?"

The answer is obvious: People who exercise their civil rights sometimes face discrimination or ostracism, at least in certain circles, if the exercise of the rights were to become known. That's why some people feel the need to hide the fact that they are gay. (Maybe they would nonetheless benefit in the long term from coming out of the closet, and maybe society would be better off as a result; but we'd think it strange to ask why they'd feel the need to stay in the closet.)

Likewise as to abortion rights, rights to use contraceptives, rights to speak anonymously, and the like. And likewise as to gun rights: In certain circles, owning a gun, or having a licensed to carry a gun concealed, is frowned on, and may lead to various social and professional repercussions. Perhaps such information should nonetheless be a matter of public record for various reasons, even if information about one's sexual autonomy or abortion history is not. But such an argument would have little to do with whether gun rights are civil rights; one may want to keep private the exercise of one's civil rights at least as much as one wants to keep private other behavior.

Am I missing something? Is there some deep irony -- or deep insight -- to "If gun rights are civil rights, why would anyone feel the need to hide the fact that they own one?" that I'm not grasping?

Thanks to InstaPundit, who has more to say on the subject.

David Walser:
Am I missing something? Is there some deep irony -- or deep insight -- to "If gun rights are civil rights, why would anyone feel the need to hide the fact that they own one?" that I'm not grasping?
No, you're not missing something. Andrew Sullivan's post is just one more example of how he's apparently lost the ability to think critically about any topic other than homosexuality. Unless, he's trying to be sarcastic. In which case, it's just a failed attempt at irony. A failure that is more than occasionally shared by writers of far less talent than Andrew.
5.8.2007 9:07pm
Dr. T (mail) (www):
Is Andrew Sullivan deliberately forgetting what happened last year in Canada when a list of gun owners was released? Burglars quickly used the information to steal guns.

People are free to buy $250,000 diamond necklaces, but they surely would have valid objections if the jewelers published their names.
5.8.2007 9:12pm
Steve:
No, it seems like an incoherent point to me. That said, I'm not sure Instapundit's retort makes much more sense:

I think the short answer is that gun rights are about security, and we'd rather keep the criminals guessing. In addition, doubt about who owns guns generates what economists call "positive externalities," meaning that if a substantial proportion of homeowners have guns, or if a nontrivial number of people out-and-about are carrying concealed guns, potential burglars or assailants have to allow for the possibility that a victim or someone in the neighborhood might be armed.


This may make sense as an abstract principle. But from the standpoint of the individual gun owner who wants to be safe from crime, it seems silly. Surely I'd rather criminals simply stay away from me because they know I have a gun, rather than keeping them guessing in hope they'd be deterred from crime altogether.

After all, these are concealed-weapons permits, not permits to have a gun in your home for protection. Surely a mugger doesn't have the opportunity to find out my name and consult the list before deciding whether to attack me. And if criminals are really doing detailed analyses based on the published list ("zip code X has 10% more concealed weapons than zip code Y! I'm going to commit my crimes in zip code Y!"), then a public list is a benefit to zip code X and a detriment to zip code Y. It's not at all clear why the residents in zip code X would want to assume extra risk solely for the benefit of zip code Y; they might well want the world to know "yes, we have tons of guns in zip code X, evildoers stay away!"

There are lots of good reasons why people might want to keep their concealed-weapons permit secret, but Instapundit's argument ain't it.
5.8.2007 9:13pm
Stamboulieh (mail):
Interestingly enough, today the Tennessean published a complete list of all Concealed Weapon Permit holders in the state of Tennessee. After a HUGE backlash from readers all around the United States, they "decided," also today, to remove this database.

A Florida paper did this as well, and it is documented that a man used this information to steal guns from a house when they knew the owners had a permit and were out.
5.8.2007 9:16pm
FC:
Prof. Volokh, I thank you. My first response to Sullivan was similar to yours but much more graphic. Now I'll just keep it to myself.
5.8.2007 9:23pm
Carolina:
We don't publish the names of gun owners for the same reasons we don't publish the names of people who own expensive watches, vintage cars, rare art work, or stashes of uncut diamonds.

This seems so obvious to me that, like Prof. Volokh, I don't get Sullivan's point at all.
5.8.2007 9:53pm
Kevin P. (mail):
Andrew Sullivan doesn't own any guns and like many non-gun owners is clueless about guns and the people who own them.. Into this mix, throw in Andrew's roller coaster emotional thought and you have his post.
5.8.2007 9:57pm
Anoymous (mail):
I hide the fact that I own a gun from everyone, including my friends. I would no sooner tell a friend or neighbor that I own/carry a gun than I would tell them the code for my alarm system.

My guns are an integral part of my personal security system. I do not discuss my personal security system with anyone except my personal security advisers.
5.8.2007 9:59pm
3L:
I hide the fact that I own a gun from everyone, including my friends. I would no sooner tell a friend or neighbor that I own/carry a gun than I would tell them the code for my alarm system.

And a bunch of strangers on the internet.
5.8.2007 10:06pm
AK (mail):
David Walser wrote:
Andrew Sullivan's post is just one more example of how he's apparently lost the ability to think critically about any topic other than homosexuality.
Since when has Sullivan regained "the ability to think critically about" homosexuality? He didn't earn the nickname St. Andrew of the Sacred Heart-Ache for his ability to be calm and rational about gay marriage!
5.8.2007 10:06pm
Vinnie (mail):
Well the ballot is secret.
5.8.2007 10:08pm
Ronald D. Coleman (mail) (www):
Andrew Sullivan's post is just one more example of how he's apparently lost the ability to think critically about any topic other than homosexuality.
Actually that is the one topic regarding which he actually never thinks critically, and which we have seen over the last six years has clouded his judgment on absolutely everything else.
5.8.2007 10:08pm
AK (mail):
Cruising the internet for anonymous sex is a civil right, too, but the last time I checked, Andrew "HardnSolidDC" Sullivan wasn't keen on having his exercise of that right revealed to the public.
5.8.2007 10:11pm
TomB (mail):

And a bunch of strangers on the internet.


Yes, moron, we all now know someone named "anonymous" has a concealed carry permit.

sheesh.

That's the kind of deep thought I expect from Sullivan.
5.8.2007 10:15pm
David Walser:
Since when has Sullivan regained "the ability to think critically about" homosexuality? He didn't earn the nickname St. Andrew of the Sacred Heart-Ache for his ability to be calm and rational about gay marriage!
And
Actually that is the one topic regarding which he actually never thinks critically, and which we have seen over the last six years has clouded his judgment on absolutely everything else.
Point taken.

Sullivan's ability to see examples of homophobia where I see none is what threw me. He's obviously just a deeper thinker on the subject than I am or ever hope to be.
5.8.2007 10:24pm
Jon L.:

Surely I'd rather criminals simply stay away from me because they know I have a gun, rather than keeping them guessing in hope they'd be deterred from crime altogether.

No, Steve. Thats not just a list of CCW holders, its a list of gun owners. They aren't at home 24/7 to guard against theft of their firearms or other valuables.
5.8.2007 10:25pm
PersonFromPorlock:
That'll teach the NRA to ignore gay marriage!
5.8.2007 10:27pm
33yearprof:
"Surprise" they teach in the army is a force multiplier. Every combatant wants it.

When you draw your concealed firearm, you want the attacker to be mentally stunned into inaction. If the element of surprise works, the likelihood that you'll need to actually shoot him decreases. Surely that is a social good.
5.8.2007 10:29pm
TomB (mail):

TomB: It's anoymous - keep your anonyms straight!


AHA! I know that guy! ;-)
5.8.2007 10:33pm
Roger Rainey (mail):
Republicans in NYC knew the answer instinctively.
5.8.2007 10:34pm
Steve:
No, Steve. Thats not just a list of CCW holders, its a list of gun owners. They aren't at home 24/7 to guard against theft of their firearms or other valuables.

Instapundit called it a "list of Tennessee concealed-weapon permit holders." If my description was in error, the error didn't originate with me.

More to the point, I acknowledged that there are good arguments why one might want to keep their name off such a list, and protecting one's weapons from theft might well be one of those good reasons. But that's not the reason Instapundit cited, which is why I still contend his stated reason makes no sense.
5.8.2007 10:37pm
AK (mail):
Let's just turn this on its head: What business is it of Andrew Sullivan that I'm exercising a civil right?
5.8.2007 10:46pm
Reg (mail):
The same arguments in favor of anonymous gun ownership are even more convincing, at least to me, when applied to political speech.
5.8.2007 10:57pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

Instapundit called it a "list of Tennessee concealed-weapon permit holders." If my description was in error, the error didn't originate with me.


I realize that it's a subtle point, but did it occur to you that to a very high coefficient of correlation, "CCW permit holder" will correlate positively to "gun owner"?
5.8.2007 10:59pm
R. Richard Schweitzer (mail):
Perhaps we should ask if there is not a constant misuse of the the modifier "civil" for most individual rights.

The right to keep arms (guns) is not a "Gun Right," and accepting weird labels and terminology makes for a yodeling contest.

There may be rights, such as voting, which derive entirely from the organization of a social order, which can be termed "Civil" rights.

But owning guns is not one of those.

Now, as to individual rights, how may their exercise be constrained or publicized? That may be what should take the place of yodeling. As always, we have to consider the why of any such constraints and then proceed to how.
5.8.2007 11:00pm
Tom Maguire (mail):
From Steve above:

After all, these are concealed-weapons permits, not permits to have a gun in your home for protection. Surely a mugger doesn't have the opportunity to find out my name and consult the list before deciding whether to attack me.

That is relevant if all crimes are committed by muggers on a random basis. Some people, however, are in a situation where they have real enemies, or are likely to be a non-random target of an attack - a local prosecutor, or the owner of a cash-heavy business, or a pharmacist, just to suggest some examples.

So yes, I can see where a criminal might specifically target such a person, who might prefer to have their weaponry (or lack thereof) a mystery.
5.8.2007 11:09pm
SDN:
I wonder what Mr. Sullivan's position is on standard contact tracing for the HIV positive? After all, it's at least as relevant for the public to know who has a communicable disease and how they got it as it is who has a CCW.
5.8.2007 11:14pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
If a gun owner only had one gun, and he always carried it concealed on his person, having this fact known might not be so bad (although an essential corollary fact that should be publicized would be that there weren't any more guns at his home to be stolen while he was out). I doubt that very many mugger-type robbers identify and research their victims before the crime, so most criminals would still be unpleasantly surprised when they accosted our one-gun armed citizen.

Since most gun owners have more than one gun, and since most gun owners (as against CCW permit holders) don't generally carry concealed, a list of either gun owners or CCW permit holders is likely to lead to a house with guns in it. This is the reason why gun owners don't want the fact spread all over the newpapers.

The Boston Globe tried to pull this stunt a number of years back; the Massachusetts Firearms Records Bureau told the Globe to take a flying leap, and the Massachusetts Legislature, as liberal as it is, has manfully resisted calls for a change in the law to allow such publicity.
5.8.2007 11:50pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Another important (and I think overlooked) note is that people fire gun owners.

Chris Byrne was fired once. Joe Huffman lost his, too, and I swear Kim Du Toit did as well. Matt, of Three Panel Soul/MacHall fame was fired for daring to talk about owning a gun in the future. Kids get kicked out of school for daring to have a pendant that looks like a gun, arrested for a violent writing, or suspended for making a bang sound. Community rifle teams are nearly nonexistent, despite being several times safer than football, even in locations with huge demand, as getting a shooting range is increasingly difficult. A New Jersey judge states that, when carrying out a human right, "the citizen acts at his peril".

Imagine being not only fired, but virtually blacklisted, for talking about any other civil or human right. You dare speak against someone for an obscure Muslim ritual or an abortion and you'll have the ACLU down on you in seconds. Own a CCW or a gun permit, and the police will send automatic-wielding SWAT teams after you for speeding.
Can you see why we might be a little paranoid?
5.8.2007 11:59pm
Beem:
This a totally tangential digression, but I'm curious. In countless gun debates, I have ALWAYS heard from gun advocates that of course guns make the world safer, of course a burglar would be much less likely to burgalize a home with a gun owner, etc ect. But in this thread, the exact opposite is claimed, that advertising gun ownership makes one more likely to be targeted, as opposed to less. And I suppose it could be both, but it seems like there is an attempt to play it both ways. So how does it all work, reconciling the alleged safety conferred by guns with the alleged danger of disclosing one's firearm ownership? I mean this as an honest question, because I'm sure there are reasons, but I'm not in the position to know what they are.
5.9.2007 12:00am
Kevin Baker (mail) (www):
I swear, I wrote my piece on the topic before I ever read the Instapundit post!
5.9.2007 12:02am
Kevin Baker (mail) (www):
Beem:

The majority of the deterrent effect comes from a burglar not knowing whether a home he is considering burglarizing might contain an armed resident. Or if an armed neighbor might respond. Criminals are generally not very bright, but they're as risk-averse as the next guy. So, if you live in a society like England where you know the resident doesn't have a firearm (but probably put in a very expensive burglar alarm) it's much safer just to ring the doorbell and then deck the resident when he opens the door. This is known as a "hot burglary" rather than what it is - armed robbery.

To flip the question around, would you put a "Gun Free Zone!" sign in your front yard?
5.9.2007 12:06am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
This is just a non-lawyer mulling here...but voting, political speech, religious observance, and the right to keep and bear arms are the fundamental rights/liberties of the original 10 amendments, and the right to exercise them anonymously would seem to be an important component of those rights. The others are procedural in nature and transparency of the proccesses is required (e.g., you can't have a public trial without a public record).

Licenses, permits, public charters, and suchlike, are privileges and by tradition and necessity, part of the public record. I'm not suggesting that all regulation is forbidden, but carrying concealed arms doesn't seem to fit into the group of licensable activities to which it's been assigned.

Don't hate me for using legal terms incorrectly.
5.9.2007 12:08am
Kevin! (mail):
Sullivan gets it completely backwards. Gun Rights &the other Amendments are fundamental Civil Rights EXACTLY BECAUSE they might be unpopular or discriminated against.

Many of our fundamental civil liberties were enacted to protect minorities against majority vote, and prevailing public moods.

If gun rights were universally accepted, we wouldn't need their protection in the Constitution.
5.9.2007 12:20am
gattsuru (mail) (www):
of course a burglar would be much less likely to burgalize a home with a gun owner


I don't believe I've seen that thrown around. Statistically, gun owners are probably more likely to be burglarized, since people tend to purchase firearms if they feel threatened (remember, correlation is not causation). The difference is that those who are burglarized with firearms are likely to strongly deter burglars from stealing everything not nailed down or raping/murdering bystanders.

By publishing the names of some gun owners, this reduces that effect and replaces it with a new one. The average gun owner owns 3.4 guns (with many owning much fewer, but most owning more than one). As many CCWs prevent the carrying of more than one gun, many jobs prevent the carrying of any gun, as do visits to many public locations, breaking into the uninhabited home of a known gun owner is suddenly very valuable.

The primary issue is that guns primarily make people safer by discouraging acts likely to put individuals in danger (such as inhabited burglary, which has skyrocketed in the United Kingdom largely because the burglar has no real risk).
5.9.2007 12:25am
glangston (mail):
By Sullivan's logic should peace officer's addresses and names be published also? Actually this might have some public purpose in emergencies or civil unrest but of course the officer would not be terribly happy about this.
5.9.2007 12:28am
Steve:
Some people, however, are in a situation where they have real enemies, or are likely to be a non-random target of an attack - a local prosecutor, or the owner of a cash-heavy business, or a pharmacist, just to suggest some examples.

But if I'm not one of these people - just an ordinary guy who owns a gun for protection - my primary goal is to avoid becoming a crime victim.

Yet Instapundit believes I would prefer to keep my gun ownership a secret, creating a greater likelihood that a criminal (mistakenly assuming I don't have a gun) will target me, for the reason that keeping things secret will deter people from attacking your hypothetical prosecutor or pharmacist.

If Instapundit had simply said "gun owners don't want to be targeted for gun burglaries" or "gun owners don't want to be discriminated against at work" or any of the other reasonable points that have been advanced, I wouldn't have even bothered commenting. Instead, he makes a ludicrous argument, suggesting that the typical gun owner is so selfless that he risks his personal safety solely to create an air of mystery about who owns a gun in order to deter criminals from attacking other people, complete strangers to him.
5.9.2007 1:57am
Kazinski:
I suppose now that the standard for quoting controversial figures has been set I'll be the last person to ever use this quote:

[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility".
Adolph Hitler
5.9.2007 2:12am
Kazinski:
Whoops wrong thread.
5.9.2007 2:13am
crrmuilk (mail):
I wonder why nobody wears T-shirt with "I'm gun-free person"?
5.9.2007 3:48am
Robert Corr (mail):
I thought Sullivan's post was quite clearly sarcastic. Its title ("The Gun Closet") was the giveaway.
5.9.2007 4:50am
Pantapon Rose (mail):
I don't get why people think Sullivan is some kind of serious deep thinker; any smattering of his posts will reveal he actually knows very little about the Constitution.
5.9.2007 8:24am
Scaldis Noel:
Pantapon Rose, I think that your sentence went about 3 words too long, "...about the Constitution." Drop those 3 words and you've hit the nail on the head.
5.9.2007 8:56am
rosignol (mail):
No, you're not missing something. Andrew Sullivan's post is just one more example of how he's apparently lost the ability to think critically about any topic other than homosexuality.

Fixed!
5.9.2007 9:12am
big dirigible (mail) (www):
Instead, he makes a ludicrous argument, suggesting that the typical gun owner is so selfless that he risks his personal safety solely to create an air of mystery about who owns a gun in order to deter criminals from attacking other people, complete strangers to him.

This is silly. It's "concealed carry". If everyone knows who's carrying, in what sense is it concealed? "Open carry" is a different matter altogether, with different social dynamics. Both situations have been well explored in the literature - Reynolds didn't just make it all up on the fly.

As for non-carrying (gun ownership but not gun carrying), guns at home are obviously tempting targets for burglars. In that case they're useless for defense, as guns can't defend themselves against burglars.

The situation is worse than, say, publishing the names of owners of expensive jewelry, as in many states guns can't be kept just anywhere - they must be kept at the address of a person with an appropriate license. They can't be deposited in a vault elsewhere.
5.9.2007 9:24am
Joel Rosenberg (mail) (www):
crrmuilk writes: I wonder why nobody wears T-shirt with "I'm gun-free person"?
Actually, I (infrequently) wear a similar T-shirt; it's got the circle-and-slash over a handgun, and says "I'm unarmed. Please don't hurt me." My favorite moment with it was when I was at a friend's restaurant, and took off my jacket, revealing the shirt, and he came very close to snorting Sprite out of his nose.

And it's kind of fun to conduct a carry class, with a gun visible in a holster on my hip, wearing that shirt . . .

In terms of the privacy issue, I think I can speak with some objectivity -- it's not my oxe being gored; ever since I testified in front of the MN State Senate, some years ago, about difficulties in getting and keeping a carry permit, I've been out of the gun closet; being a fairly-well-known MN carry permit instructor, author of the definitive (by process of elimination, if nothing else) book on carrying a handgun in Minnesota; being the subject of a (dramatically unsuccessful) hoax in 2005 in an attempt to delay repassage of the Personal Protection Act, etc. . . .

But there are many permit holders who prefer to have their status as permit holders kept private -- and MN law is very obliging on that: absent being charged (or convicted) of a crime which would result in the permit being yanked, permit data is protected by our Data Practices Act.

Reasons vary: at least a couple of stalking victims would prefer that their stalkers not know in advance that they're eligible to carry; at least two retired cops and current prosecutors really don't want to advertise their status to folks who they've helped put in prison; others feel that their employers might have problems with them having permits, and don't want to take the risks; still others have noticed the kinds of hassles that some of us who are known to carry have gotten, and don't want to volunteer for them; yet others are just private sorts of folks, and don't like sharing personal decisions with the whole world.

In one case I'm aware of, the permit holder is a fairly prominent anti-gun activist, and he or she wouldn't be comfortable having that hypocrisy exposed. (I find the hypocrisy despicable, mind you, but I respect the individual's right to his or her privacy -- you'll note that I'm not publicly naming him or her.)

All in all, it seems to me that, as with other normal sorts of decisions that people make to see to their own personal security or other private matters, it should be up to the individual how public they are about that, and both law and courtesy should respect that.
5.9.2007 11:09am
William Tanksley (mail):
I don't get why people are questioning InstaPundit's meaning. He specifically said that it's a "positive externality", which means that _we_ want CCW permit holders (and weapon owners in general) to remain anonymous. It's a simple public policy argument -- as long as they're unknown, all of society is a little more protected, since criminals will have to face some uncertainty.

It's explicitly not an argument from the perspective of the gun owner.
5.9.2007 2:39pm
mariner (mail):
This may make sense as an abstract principle. But from the standpoint of the individual gun owner who wants to be safe from crime, it seems silly. Surely I'd rather criminals simply stay away from me because they know I have a gun, rather than keeping them guessing in hope they'd be deterred from crime altogether.

....

There are lots of good reasons why people might want to keep their concealed-weapons permit secret, but Instapundit's argument ain't it.


Steve, you don't know what you're talking about.

I have a handgun. The reason I carry it concealed, and the reason I do not advertise that fact, is exactly as Instapundit suggested: I don't want criminals to know I'm armed.

Surprise is a tactical advantage; if I need to defend myself against a violent criminal I want all the advantage I can get.
5.9.2007 3:39pm
mariner (mail):
Don't worry, Professor V. There's nothing in Sullivan't post you're not grasping; it's as pointless as you suspected.
5.9.2007 3:42pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Homosexual sex is a constitutionally protected right, according to the Supreme Court. Why would anyone object to a newspaper providing a searchable list of the names and home addresses of known homosexuals?

And for you liberals out there: yes, I would be upset about this as well. But no newspaper would ever do such a thing.
5.9.2007 4:47pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
A concealed handgun is primarily a defense against attack by strangers or extraordinarily stupid people that know and dislike you. If someone is really intent on killing you, they will use a rifle, and you won't even know what hit you. Your concealed handgun will be useless. That's why I don't think that this information being public record is that big of a deal--as long as some idiot doesn't insist on making it visible on the Internet or in print.

However: by making home addresses visible, newspapers are putting people who have reason to fear for their safety from particular attackers at unnecessary risk. Retired peace officers. Judges. Women with violent ex-spouses. I know someone who lives in fear of her ex-son-in-law (ex because he murdered his wife) who has recently been released from prison. She works very hard to make sure that her name and picture do not ever appear anywhere.

Newspapers that make this information readily available are attempting to shame licensees into not doing so. It does not seem to occur to these clueless morons that you don't carry a concealed handgun because it's cool, but because you are afraid of death, rape, robbery, or great bodily injury. What's the contempt of your liberal neighbors compared to those risks?
5.9.2007 4:53pm
Napolean O'Brien:
By Sullivan's logic should peace officer's addresses and names be published also? Actually this might have some public purpose in emergencies or civil unrest but of course the officer would not be terribly happy about this.

Some citizens are more equal than others, and are permitted to turn off their telescreen.
5.10.2007 12:22am
abb3w:
"If Gun Rights Are Civil Rights, why would anyone feel the need to hide the fact that they own one?"

Ask a reporter for the paper would feel about the corresponding information (like names and addresses) about all of their employees. After all, "If a Free Press is a Civil Right, why would anyone feel the need to hide the fact that they work for one?"
5.10.2007 4:44pm